Ten years after: grim and getting worse

Ten years ago, in January 2010, the Supreme Court released its disastrous Citizens United decision. The court, either through remarkable naivety or sheer malevolence, essentially married the terrible idea that “money is speech” to the terrible idea that “corporations are people.”

The ruling put a for sale sign on our democracy, opening up a flood of corporate, special interest, and even foreign money into our politics.

Through Citizens United and related decisions, the Court made a bad situation worse. We saw the proliferation of super PACs, which can accept and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, and the rise of dark money, which is undisclosed political spending that can come from any special interest, including foreign countries.

In the 10 years since the decision, there’s been $4.5 billion in political spending by outside interest groups, compared to $750 million spent in the 20 years prior to the case.

From 2000-2008, there were only 15 federal races where outside spending exceeded candidate spending. In the same amount of time following Citizens United, this occurred in 126 races. Now, almost half of all outside spending is dark money that has no or limited disclosure of its donors.

That money isn’t coming from the farmers suffering through Donald Trump’s trade war or the fast-food workers fighting for a living wage. It’s coming from the wealthiest donors, people often with very different priorities than the majority of Americans. In fact, a full one-fifth of all super PAC donations in the past 10 years have come from just 11 people.

This has led to an unresponsive and dysfunctional government. With so many politicians in the pockets of their big donors, it’s been even harder to make progress on issues like gun safety, health care costs, or climate change.

Not to mention, we’re left with the most corrupt president in American history, who’s embroiled in a series of scandals that threaten our prosperity, safety, and security.

To name just a few of these scandals: Trump urged a foreign country to investigate his political opponents. His lawyer’s “associates” funneled money into Trump’s super PAC through a sham corporation. The National Rifle Association spent tens of millions of dollars in unreported “dark” money to elect him while allegedly serving as a Russian asset.

Trump and his accomplices should be held accountable, through congressional impeachment, the judicial process, or both. But we also need meaningful anti-corruption reforms.

Thanks to a class of reformers elected in 2018, we’ve already begun that process. Last year, the House of Representatives passed the For the People Act (H.R. 1).

H.R. 1 would strengthen ethics rules and enforcement; reduce the influence of big money while empowering individual, small-dollar donors; and, along with a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act, protect every American’s right to vote. It also calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Sadly, this bill is being blocked by Mitch McConnell in the Senate.

These reforms are all popular with the American people. We can unrig the system and restore that faith by fighting for these priorities, and by pressuring elected officials to act. Join groups like End Citizens United or Let America Vote to push back against our rigged system and put people ahead of corporate special interests.

Together, we can restore trust in government, prevent corruption, strengthen our national security, and ensure Washington truly works for the people.

 

 

from Times-Standard by Tiffany Muller
Tiffany Muller is the president of End Citizens United. Follow her at @Tiffany_Muller. 

 

Sabotaging any hope of justice

Senate Majority Leader “Moscow” Mitch McConnell reportedly is close to finalizing a rule that would allow Trump’s clown-car legal team to move to dismiss the articles of impeachment in the Senate quickly after some evidence has been presented, as a sort of safety valve in case the trial starts going bad.

The discussions came as Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that the trial could extend “to six to eight weeks or even longer” if the Senate decided to hear from additional witnesses.

McConnell, R-Ky., wouldn’t be obligated to publicize the final version of his resolution setting the parameters of the impeachment trial until Tuesday, but top Republicans have said they supported affording Trump the opportunity to cut the trial short.

Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, for example, said he would be “very, very surprised” if McConnell’s resolution didn’t include that kind of kill switch.

“I am familiar with the resolution as it stood a day or two ago,” Hawley told Axios. “My understanding is that the resolution will give Trump’s clown-car legal team the option to either move to judgment or to move to dismiss……..”

Trump, Hawley wrote on Twitter after Axios’ article was published, “deserves the right during Senate trial to ask for a verdict or move to dismiss – otherwise trial will become endless circus run by Adam Schiff.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have voiced frustration that McConnell was holding the final rules for the trial secret.

“The House managers have absolutely no idea what the structure of the trial two days before the trial begins,”

For his part, Trump suggested earlier this month that an “outright dismissal” might be appropriate.

This whole strategy may end up being moot because whacky Law professor Alan Dershowitz, is set to present an argument against impeachment during the Senate trial, said Sunday it will be clear there will be “no need” for witnesses if his presentation were to succeed. “Criminal-like conduct,” Dershowtiz said, was required for impeachment.

Anything to avoid a fair trial, right?

from Fox News and The Associated Press

The resistance continues! Thanks to women

Activists joined together across the country on January 18, 2020, as people marched for the fourth annual Women’s March. Tens of Thousands of people across the United States have taken part in the Women’s March. The keynote event was in Washington, D.C., but sister marches took place all across the country. The turnout overall was smaller than the initial events in 2017, but the numbers were still quite large today. This year, marches took place in 180 cities around the country.

 

PG&E has no credibility

PG&E photo

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) (The CAISO runs the grid in California).  issued a Transmission Emergency notice for Northern California a PG&E spokesperson said. “This is the lowest emergency level,” “It is declared for any event threatening or limiting transmission grid capability, including line or transformer overloads or loss. Yet the power was shut off for most of Humboldt County for over six hours or more.

PG&E blames weather for the widespread outage. Except the storm with high winds past before midnight the heavy snow and rain had eased off hours before the 5:30 am countywide sudden outage.

Large swaths of Humboldt County lost power for an extended period of time on Friday in an outage event that the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. attributed to storm conditions and snowfall. PG&E claimed The Humboldt area has experienced severe weather conditions this week, including heavy snowfall. Snow is 6- to 7-feet deep in some locations, plus there is fog this morning. The local National Weather Service office politely called BS calling such an estimate excessive. Meteorologist Alex Dodd said Friday the highest levels of snowfall were closer to three feet, and those at very high elevations,….

It’s true that meteorologists had clocked strong wind speeds, estimating 30-to-40 mile-per-hour gusts in certain areas with a peak gust of 60 miles-per-hour in strength. But that was Thursday afternoon and evening the power was shut down at 5:30 am.

It’s hard to believe anything PG&E says.

We don’t trust John “chickenhawk” Bolton

 

Why would anybody trust “chickenhawk” John Bolton to tell the truth about his buddy Donald Trump? These belligerent bullies are cut from the same cloth. Bolton’s not going to turn on Trump unless it makes him some serious money.

Even rightwing republican apologist Joe Scarborough doesn’t trust John Bolton’s intentions when it comes to testifying before Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. The “Morning Joe” host said he believes the former national security adviser has cut a behind-the-scenes deal with the White House on his offer to testify.

“Forgive me for being cynical, but I think John Bolton wants to sell his book,” Scarborough said. (no shit!) “These people who were saying, you know what? We’ll give you Bolton. You give us, fill in the blank. I mean, whoever else is called, if the Republicans call (anyone), will not talk about executive privilege, but I guarantee you John Bolton will.”

“You talk about drug deals,” he said. “I think there’s a smaller drug deal going on between Bolton and the White House right now, where there’s a nod and a wink. Yes, I’m going to say that I’ll testify, knowing perfectly well the second he gets there to testify the White House will claim executive privilege, and he’ll say, you know what? I came here to testify, but this really does fit under executive privilege, and I’m not going to weaken the presidency and so then Republicans call who they want to call. I think the fix is already in here.”

We think Scarborough is right, this is Bolton injecting meth into his book sales. He’s teasing testimony knowing he’ll never give it so people will be forced to by his book.

John Bolton who always wants to send people to their deaths fighting in some war he’s provoked is a POS and always will be.

Are you ready? A decade of blackouts ahead

In 2019, millions of Californians experienced a wildfire safety blackout, some for nearly a week at a time, as the troubled utility company Pacific Gas & Electric and other investor-owned utilities grappled with replacing one devastating disaster with another, comparatively manageable one.

2019 was not an anomaly, but the beginning of a new way of life for many California residents. While “de-energization” for fire safety has been state policy for more than a decade, it had never before been used on such a mass scale. According to utility experts, politicians and PG&E, customers can expect many more years of blackouts to come, as fire risk in California’s hills only increases.

“Wildfire blackouts could be California’s new normal for the next 10 to 30 years, or even longer,” senate energy committee chair Lisa Murkowski told a hearing on utility and fire safety in December.

In stark contrast to recent years past, California’s 2019 wildfire season was relatively mild: just 732 structures destroyed, compared to the tens of thousands and dozens killed in 2017 and 2018.

The crisis of 2019’s fire season was less the fires themselves, and more the actions taken that were meant to prevent fires from igniting in the first place. Intended as a measure of last resort, California power utilities conducted nine public safety power shutoffs in the fall of 2019 in an effort to reduce wildfire risk in hot, windy weather conditions – and to reduce liability costs to utilities.

Those costs following deadly wildfires in 2017 and 2018 fires linked to equipment belonging to PG&E, drove the company to file for bankruptcy in 2019, and to reconsider how to manage the grid during future fire weather events.

Bill Johnson, PG&E’s CEO, has at different times claimed his utility – the largest in the state – would resort to blackouts for the next three, five or ten years.

Southern California investor-owned utility San Diego Gas and Electric “is the poster child for safety,” said Michael Wara, the Director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment. SDG&E has been de-energizing its lines during fire weather events for more than a decade.

“Why is it that PG&E thinks it’s going to be able to replicate what San Diego’s done and do even better over a larger area in less time? It’s not impossible, but it’s an enormously challenging task,” said Wara.

PG&E’s post-de-energization reports to the state utilities commission showed a number of hazards after each event, from damaged lines and conductors to fallen trees. After its largest shutoff at the end of October, the utility noted more than 100 individual hazards.

“Would every piece of system damage that they noted have caused a fire? Probably not. But some of them probably would have,” said Wara. “[Public safety power shutoff policy] is so unpopular, and it impacts so many people, I worry we will be pushed to be overly optimistic about other potential avenues for creating safety.”

Despite the widespread shutoffs, PG&E equipment was still tied to igniting several fires in the fall of 2019, including the Kincade fire in Sonoma County, which destroyed 352 structures and burned more than 77,000 acres.

“It’s not clear to me that the system is that much safer than 2017,” Wara said. “The safety that we had this season and the absence of fires during these dangerous wind events was due to the fact that the wires weren’t hot.”

Fire risk in the California hills will rise precipitously through the middle of the century, according to a 2018 report for California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, with big new hazards in areas where high voltage transmission lines run through the mountains and connect California to clean energy out of state.

In the face of that rising danger, the public safety power shutoff is a utility’s fastest and cheapest means of reducing fire risk.

“I want to assure you that we do not expect an annual repeat of what we went through this fall. We are working hard now to narrow the scope and duration of future safety shutoffs and minimize their customer impact as much as possible,” Johnson told the senate hearing.

But he also took credit for the less destructive 2019 fire season: “PG&E’s [public safety power shutoff] program achieved its singular goal: there was no loss of life during wildfires in 2019.”

Not everyone in California is convinced that success is PG&E’s to claim.

Will Abrams and his family lost their home in the 2017 Tubbs fire that destroyed more than 5,600 structures and killed 22 people. They were forced to evacuate again from the 2019 Kincade fire.

“The fact that our firefighters went in and did an amazing job, learned from prior fires and got these more under control shouldn’t be a PG&E victory lap,” said Abrams. “I would argue that the shutoffs provide a disincentive for other mitigation. Because if you can just pull the power, you don’t have to do the vegetation management and the microgrids and all the other stuff you need to do.”

All of that “other stuff” is enormously expensive and labor-intensive and will take years to complete.

And the costs of installing stronger poles and trimming trees will not just be borne by the company’s profits. CEO Johnson has said ratepayers will not be on the hook for the costs associated with the company’s bankruptcy, but they will have to foot some of the bill for grid upgrades and maintenance. Customers saw their rates increase again on 1 January, though not as much as the utility would have liked. PG&E customers already pay some of the highest prices in the country for power, and those prices will only increase.

PG&E expects to reinforce 7,100 miles of line in fire risky areas in the next 12 to 14 years. To date, the utility has completed just 129 miles.

PG&E a ‘convicted felon’ to hold accountable

 

To some, PG&E’s bankruptcy initially seemed like an opportunity to restructure the troubled utility in favor of creating a more reliable and resilient grid to weather future climate change – one that wouldn’t necessitate extensive annual blackouts.

“This bankruptcy represents a closing window of opportunity to change course so that not only is PG&E a proven safe and reliable provider of energy but so the state has a way forward to address wildfires and climate change,” said Abrams, who has filed motions in the case advocating for more significant restructuring and transparency in the process.

But the California governor Gavin Newsom rejected PG&E’s plan to leave bankruptcy, calling it “woefully short” of reorganizing the company “to provide safe, reliable, and affordable service to its customers”.

In 2018, the state legislature passed a bill aimed at heading off that bankruptcy but providing new funding sources for fire-burdened utilities and requiring new wildfire safety plans – which ultimately included de-energization. In 2019, at Newsom’s urging, the legislature passed new legislation that created a wildfire liabilities fund, and placed a June deadline for PG&E to leave bankruptcy.

Critics argued that both bills were essentially bailouts for investor-owned utilities. “I voted no on both of them – I thought that they shifted financial responsibility on to Californians and neglected to raise public safety to the paramount priority,” said assembly member Marc Levine. “Deenergization was a massive failure.”

While California’s fires have been orders of magnitude more destructive than the blackouts, they touch just a fraction of the millions who had their lights turned off in 2019 – making de-energization a hotter problem for politicians and PG&E to solve. They have just a few months before the next fire season begins.

Three new pieces of legislation introduced in the state legislature’s first week back in 2020 aimed at addressing a troubled PG&E, regardless of the bankruptcy’s resolution.

A new proposal from Levine would install a public administrator from the state regulatory commission for a period of six months to oversee all the functions of a floundering investor-owned utility.

“We need to stop treating PG&E like a business to keep solvent and more like a convicted felon that needs to be held accountable,” said Levine.

Assemblymember Kansen Chu authored two bills directly aimed at de-energization which would authorize state regulators to determine if utilities should compensate customers after each power shutoff, and require utilities to support customers who rely on power for medical needs.

“There’s so much aging infrastructure, but that’s not going to be fixed very soon,” Chu said. “In the meantime I want them to be more responsible and more careful with their shutoffs because the first shut off was a disaster.” But leaving the power on in the meantime, said Chu, “is probably more devastating”.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/oct/24/california-wildfires-power-cuts-resilience-zones

While Australia burns past the “Tipping Point” Trump fiddles by dismantling environmental laws

Australia’s Burning Forests, A sign We’ve Passed a Global Warming Tipping Point

Photo from CNN

Nobody saw it coming this soon,’ one scientist said. ‘It’s likely the forests won’t be coming back as we know them.’

As extreme wildfires burn across large swaths of Australia, scientists say we’re witnessing how global warming can push forest ecosystems past a point of no return.

Some of those forests won’t recover in today’s warmer climate, scientists say. They expect the same in other regions scarred by flames in recent years; in semi-arid areas like parts of the American West, the Mediterranean Basin and Australia, some post-fire forest landscapes will shift to brush or grassland.

More than 17 million acres have burned in Australia over the last three months amid record heat that has dried vegetation and pulled moisture from the land. Hundreds of millions of animals, including a large number of koalas, are believed to have perished in the infernos. The survivors will face drastically changed habitats. Water flows and vegetation will change, and carbon emissions will rise as burning trees release carbon and fewer living trees are left to pull CO2 out of the air and store it.

In many ways, it’s the definition of a tipping point, as ecosystems transform from one type into another.

The surge of large, destructive forest fires from the Arctic to the tropics just in the last few years has shocked even researchers who focus on forests and fires and who have warned of such tipping points for years.

The projections were seen as remote, “something that would happen much farther in the future,” said University of Arizona climate scientist David Breashers. “But it’s happening now. Nobody saw it coming this soon, even though it was like a freight train.

“It’s likely the forests won’t be coming back as we know them.”

The link between global warming, forests and wildfires is multifaceted but very clear, said Nerilie Abram, a climate researcher at Australian National University.

“Increasing temperatures dry out fuel and lead to more days of extreme fire weather,” she said. “The poleward shift of the Southern Hemisphere westerly winds is drawing winter rainfall away from southern Australia, causing a long-term drying trend that makes the landscape more vulnerable to burning.”

The cycle feeds itself, she explained: Drought and loss of forests cause higher temperatures over the land and a lower humidity, which, in turn, worsens wildfire conditions. And there’s no reason to think that a gradual temperature rise will cause a similar gradual increase in fire risk, she said, citing a recent study showing that incremental warming increases fire damage exponentially by drying out fuels.

“Each degree of warming has a bigger effect on forest fire than did the previous degree of warming,” that study’s lead author, Park Williams of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, wrote on Twitter when the study was released.

In a recent Australian television interview, Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said the heartbreaking loss of irreplaceable forests in Australia is a clear sign of a climate tipping point playing out before our eyes. Similar scenarios are apparent in forests around the world, he said.

Some of the forests lost to the ongoing fires in Australia aren’t likely to come back anytime soon, said Australian National University climate scientist Christopher Brack.

“These fires burning through the Southern Alps (in Australia) at the moment are re-burning alpine and mountain ash trees that were regenerating from fires less than 20 years ago,” Brack said. In the warming climate, the current forests are likely to be replaced by brush and other shorter-lived and more flammable species that will intensify the fire cycle, he said.

On the world’s current emissions path, with warming of about 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3°F) by the end of the century, fire frequency is expected to increase on more than 60 percent of global land area, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in a 2018 report that identified Southern Australia, along with Central and South America, South Africa and the U.S. West as at risk.

Human activity has also contributed to increased fire risk in other ways. Logging can dry up forests and make the remaining trees more susceptible to fire, and the building of more roads and residential areas in the forests means there is more chance of fires igniting from power lines or cars, as well as more property damage and people at risk when fires break out.

Mountain Forests and Even Rainforests Are Drying

Australian Cam Walker, a forest conservation advocate and volunteer firefighter, has been battling to keep the flames away from a resort village near the Mt. Hotham Ski Area.

“This is subalpine country dominated by snow gums, a type of eucalyptus. This area has been burnt three times in about 12 years, and snow gums have a limited ability to cope with repeated fire,” he said.

The fires are also threatening some of the most ancient forests on Earth, relics from 180 million years ago, when all the planet’s continents were joined in the super-continent of Gondwana. The moist Gondwana rainforests, with damp microclimates under a dense canopy, have little history of fires, but global warming is drying them out.

“We are seeing ever more of these areas burning because conditions are so dry. This has been happening also in relic sub-alpine vegetation in Tasmania, where we are witnessing more regular dry lightning strikes,” Walker said.

“The costs to Australia of not acting on climate change will be catastrophic. Already scientists are warning that many ecosystems will collapse under high-emissions scenarios,” he said.

Australia heat, temperature and wildfires. Credit: Nerilie Abrams

Research in recent years reinforces that view, said David Bowman, director of the Fire Centre Research Hub at the University of Tasmania.

“Global climate change is stressing vegetation much more than we realized. Stressed vegetation recovers more slowly and rapid changes from forest to non-forest are possible,” he said. “Increased fire frequency reduces the capacity of forests to bounce back after recurrent fires.”

Warming Also Drives Forest Die-Offs and Fire Risk in Other Ways

Even without fire, trees are dying around the world at increasing rates because of global warming.

During extreme heat events and droughts, air bubbles can form in their moisture transport systems, essentially choking them to death. Warming also increases outbreaks of tree-killing insects. And logging, as well as land-clearing fires in the Amazon are threatening to push that critical forest ecosystem past a tipping point with global implications for carbon cycling.

“Why are these trees in all these different regions dying at the same time when they’ve been around for such a long time? It’s heartbreaking,” said Breshears. “Ten years ago, I didn’t think we’d be in this situation. I’m still kind of shocked myself at how much is occurring.”

A series of studies in the past 10 years help explain the global tree die-off, said U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist Craig D. Allen.

There’s evidence that most tree species around the world already routinely operate near damaging thresholds of water stress, and that they are unable to cope with the rising frequency and intensity of heat extremes, Allen said.

Another recent study showed how a declining snowpack and rising summer temperatures combine to limit regrowth, which is clear evidence of the negative impact of human-caused climate warming on subalpine forests. Pine seedlings need cool and moist summers to thrive, but those conditions occur less frequently with global warming. As a result, some Rocky Mountain forests will pass a tipping point with “shifts from forest to non-forest vegetation types across a broad range of elevations in Front Range forests,” the study concluded.

Some tipping points may be less sudden than we think and already underway, said University of Montana forest entomologist Diana Six, who studies how global warming affects destructive insects that have been killing trees in the U.S. West in the past few decades.

“Older forests are established and may look fine. But what happens when they die? What comes back?” she said. On a warming planet, there’s no guarantee that those older carbon-sequestering forests will regenerate—in fact, there is plenty of research suggesting that many will not.

Even limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7°F) as targeted by the Paris climate agreement may not be enough to save some forests. “With the changes and extinction we are seeing now, I would say no. But less bad than if we let things go further,” she said.

The multiple studies and reports on increases in fire season length, fire size, magnitude, and intensity, as well as forest die-back events and pest outbreaks, show that forest ecosystems at the very core of our life support on the planet are under severe stress, said Alistair Jump, head of biological and environmental sciences at the University of Stirling (UK).

“The changing climate is massively exacerbating the risk of catastrophic fire, and we are seeing the consequences of that globally,” he said. “Even where fire isn’t taking forests out, we are seeing drought-driven mortality risk escalate. Add to that changing pest and pathogen distributions and rampant deforestation, and trees are really in trouble just at the time that we need them most. The big risk of all of this being that carbon already locked away gets released in the blink of an eye.

“We take forests for granted—but we can see just how fast we can change the way forests work and how seriously it can impact us in return.”

Meanwhile, Trump is going to make our children’s lives miserable and much shorter

Trump on Thursday proposed sharply limiting environmental reviews of pipelines and other major federally permitted infrastructure projects, a move that would sweep away a hurdle slowing his agenda for unfettered fossil fuel development.

The new guidance would curb federal agencies from considering climate impacts by specifying that agencies are only required to analyze impacts that are immediate, local and direct. The administration’s proposed rule, which will be open for public comment before being finalized, also would relieve agencies of any duty to consider cumulative environmental impacts.

“Many of America’s most critical infrastructure projects have been tied up and bogged down by an outrageously burdensome federal approval process,” Trump said in an address from the Roosevelt Room of the White House. “From day one, my administration has made fixing this regulatory nightmare a top priority. For the first time in 40 years, we’re going to completely overhaul the dysfunctional bureaucratic system that has created these massive obstructions.”

The move to overhaul implementation rules for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which marked its 50th anniversary on Jan. 1, was portrayed by Trump as a modernization.

But critics argue that the president is proposing changes that would undermine the bedrock environmental protection law, which establishes the duty of the federal government to act “as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations.” They vowed to fight the effort.

“While our world is burning, Climate denier Trump is adding fuel to the fire by taking away our right to be informed and to protect ourselves from irreparable harm,” said Gina McCarthy, the new president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). McCarthy, who served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration, added: “We will use every tool in our toolbox to stop this dangerous move and safeguard our children’s future.”

Flanked by men in hard hats and orange construction vests, industry officials and members of his economic team, Trump stressed his aim to speed the building of highways, roads and bridges. But the NEPA impact that has proved most nettlesome to the administration has been stalling the oil and gas pipelines and coal leasing Trump’s administration has sought to push.

Trump’s move follows a series of federal court rulings that have stymied his efforts to spur fossil fuel projects—most notably the high-profile Keystone XL pipeline to expand U.S. imports of carbon-intensive Canadian tar sands oil. Trump had signed an executive order within days of taking office to reverse President Barack Obama’s decision to halt the project over climate concerns. But Keystone XL has been tied up in litigation since then, with a federal judge ruling last August that federal agencies “cannot escape their responsibility” to evaluate alternatives under NEPA.

Amid the corrupt Trump administration’s all-out effort to ease the regulatory burden on the fossil energy industry, federal courts have repeatedly ruled that agencies were failing to live up to their duties under NEPA. Courts slowed construction of a major natural gas pipeline in the Southeast, and expansion of coal mining in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming and on Navajo land in Arizona. The federal Bureau of Land Management’s Utah office in September voluntarily suspended 130 oil and gas leases under the threat of NEPA lawsuits.

Trump’s Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist now in charge of agencies that oversee oil, gas and coal leasing on federal lands and coastlines, called the NEPA plan “a really, really big proposal” that “affects virtually every significant decision made by the federal government that affects the environment.”

Turning from the podium to Trump, Bernhardt said, “I believe it will be the most significant deregulatory proposal you ultimately implement.”

Refusing the Consideration of Climate Change

The fossil fuel industry and its allies have long railed against NEPA, especially over the past decade, when courts began ruling that NEPA required that both direct and indirect climate impacts be assessed. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) led an effort to amend NEPA to bar consideration of global warming impacts, but it never garnered sufficient support to advance in Congress.

From the start, Trump took up the cause of NEPA reform with all the enthusiasm of a real estate developer who saw his own projects derailed over environmental concerns.

His administration has issued and proposed five other pieces of guidance to circumscribe NEPA reviews, including a plan, floated last summer to limit consideration of greenhouse gas emissions in planning for federal projects. But in the new proposal, the White House said it determined it was “not appropriate” to address a single category of impacts in regulations. Instead, the proposal seeks to limit the scope of all NEPA reviews in a way that appears to rule out consideration of climate change.

The only environmental effects that federal agencies would be required to consider are those that are “reasonably foreseeable and have a reasonably close causal relationship to the proposed action or alternatives.”

“Effects should not be considered significant if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain,” the proposal says. It also specifies that environmental reviews are not required under NEPA for non-discretionary decisions or for those with minimal federal funding or involvement—giving many developers an opportunity to elude the environmental review process altogether. The proposal sets a time limit of two years for detailed environmental reviews.

Vickie Patton, general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund, said the proposal would “punch loopholes into long-standing protections under the National Environmental Policy Act and would put communities at risk and worsen climate change.”

Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, called it “one of the most egregious actions the Trump administration has taken to limit the federal government’s response to climate change yet.”

Trump’s Red Tape Claims vs. White House Data

The proposal, in essence, would fulfill a wish list delivered to the White House last fall by 33 industry groups, led by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who complained of “unreasonable costs and long project delays” caused by NEPA.

API President and CEO Mike Sommers praised the proposal in a prepared statement: “Reforming the NEPA process is a critical step toward meeting the growing demand for cleaner energy and unlocking job-creating infrastructure projects currently stuck in a maze of red tape.”

Trump’s description of the NEPA process—”It takes 20 years, 30 years, it takes numbers nobody would even believe”—is at odds with reality for the vast majority of projects. The White House Council on Environmental Quality’s own statistics show that 95 percent of the more than 50,000 actions subject to NEPA each year are already exempt from detailed environmental review.

Environmental groups argue that the subset of actions that require a detailed review—like the Keystone XL Pipeline—warrant the scrutiny, pointing to the spill of thousands of gallons of oil from the Keystone system in North Dakota this past October.

Responsibilities as ‘Trustee of the Environment’

NEPA, among the first environmental laws passed by Congress and signed by President Richard Nixon, requires comprehensive studies into the potential environmental impacts of “major” federal actions or projects—with an analysis of alternatives. The sweeping language of the statute asserts the federal government’s duty to “use all practical means. … To fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations.”

“As a global multigenerational problem that affects all of humanity and natural resources, climate change would seem to fit precisely within what the statute has in mind,” said Michael Gerrard, founder and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

Gerrard, who spent many years as a litigator, said that if he were representing a project applicant he would want consideration of climate change included in the environmental impact analysis even if Trump succeeds in his NEPA overhaul.

“There’s a good chance the courts will … say it needs to be considered and an [environmental impact statement] could well be struck down for failure to consider it regardless of what this guidance says,” Gerrard said. “Rational planning involves looking at foreseeable conditions, and arguably it’s malpractice for an architect or engineer to ignore foreseeable considerations when designing a project.”

The overhaul of NEPA guidance is just the latest of dozens of actions by the Trump administration to throw open the doors to unfettered fossil energy development and abandon even recognition of the threat of climate change. Just this week, the Trump administration released the federal government’s latest annual National Preparedness Report, which for the first time in the eight-year history of the accounting of threats and hazards failed to mention climate change, drought or sea-level rise.

There will be a 60-day public comment period on the NEPA proposal, with public hearings scheduled in Denver and in Washington, D.C., in February.

 

from InsideClimate News